Marcus Morris Jr.’s repeated efforts to steal the microphone from his father after the Celtics’ 84-74 snuffing of the Pacers in the playoff opener at TD Garden fell short, and that was fitting. His father had earned the spotlight by injecting what little first-half life there was into the Celtics.
Trailing 12-6, Celtics coach Brad Stevens called timeout with 6:20 left in the first quarter and subbed in Morris Sr. and Gordon Hayward to take the lid off the hoop.
Morris immediately went to work on Pacers defenders who were a step slow to keep up with him.
Set up by Kyrie Iving for a 3 from the right corner, Morris buried the 24-footer. After a Hayward bucket inside, Morris started from the left wing, drove into the lane and pulled up to bury an 11-footer. Then he made 2 of 3 free throws, turned a pass from Terry Rozier into a 27-footer and made a pair of free throws with 17.5 seconds left.
With Morris scoring 12 points in the final 5:29 of the period, he Celtics pulled into a 20-20 tie. To that point, nobody else had scored more than two points.
“I just got into the game and stayed aggressive,” Morris said. “I had a couple of bigs guarding me and I was just trying to space the floor and read the closeouts.”
Morris’ versatility makes him a valuable player to come off the bench and he makes use of the time spent there at the beginning of the game by studying what he can exploit.
Morris’ strong play early in the season earned him a promotion to the starting lineup on Nov. 23. From that point, he started every game in which he played until coming off the bench March 26. His knees ached and his shot cooled as the long season wore on. Morris took a .409 3-point percentage into All-Star weekend and made 30 percent the rest of the way.
But he looked refreshed in the playoff opener.
Stevens wasn’t surprised to see his veteran forward energize the team.
“Marcus was great,” Stevens said. “You saw that coming in the last two days of practice. “He was terrific at practice on Thursday when we went live. I think he probably benefited as much as anybody from being out for a couple of the last regular-season game.”
That was evident the moment Morris entered.
It’s easy for a player to say it doesn’t matter whether he’s used as a starter or reserve, but it’s more difficult to live it. Morris doesn’t just say it, he lives it. Regardless of the role, he’s always aggressive, always believes the next play will go his way, the next shot will go down.
“At the end of the day I’m a hooper,” Morris said.
A Philly hooper is a polar opposites to a pouty prima donna.
“If I start or come off (the bench) it’s going to be just a small adjustment,” Morris said. “If I come off, make sure I come off with an impact, man. Either way, I’m just here to help the team in whatever aspect they put me at, whatever position they put me at, whether it’s starting or coming off.”
Morris made 4 of 5 shots from the field in the first quarter, 1 of 7 the rest of the way. He didn’t stop contributing after his shot cooled. The C’s outscored the Pacers by 15 points in the 29:27 Morris spent on the floor.
The Celtics won this one with gritty defense, a trait of Morris’ that can be overlooked at times because he does like to shoot.
“It’s playoff time. Your attention to detail has to go higher,” Morris said of the team’s great D.
Irving, who shared team scoring honors with Morris, lauded Morris’ effort.
“He just brought a really intense, veteran mindset,” Irving said. “He is not so much about scoring as he is the attitude coming in and just throwing himself into the game. I appreciated that. I think we all did.”